It has been a while since my last post, but only because life has been an absolute whirlwind this past month. I have been planning my wedding closely with my mother-in-law for the past year, leading up to the Big Day in September 2018. The entire month had been planning and (insignificant) last minute wedding details. After dieting nonstop for months before the wedding, I was ready to let junk food back into my life! Eating southern-style food is the perfect diet-breaker.
My husband and I got married on our four-year anniversary, September 29, 2018 and then immediately left for a road trip honeymoon extravaganza. Well, “immediately” is a loose term. Both my husband and I ended up getting wasted at our wedding after-party and woke up with the worst hangovers of our adult lives. Hubs had to pull the car over for me to vomit on the way home from the hotel in the morning. That’s true love. We ended up getting breakfast and coffee with friends to try and pull ourselves together and put something besides alcohol in our tummies. We got married on a Saturday and left the very next day to drive to Branson, MO from Chicago.
Now, my husband and I love road trips. Neither of us are super keen on flying, so we tend to drive to most of our vacation destinations. You see so much more of the world when you are driving through as opposed to flying overhead. Sure, it takes triple the time and effort of commercial flying, but at least in a car we are on the ground and in control of the situation. Yay for anxiety!
One of the sole purposes of traveling for us is to eat at the local spots. Hubby absolutely hates chain restaurants, which is perfect because he pushes to try the food that the locals eat. I love dining out anywhere – diners, dives, fine dining, anything! As much as I love to cook, I love to get dressed up and be cooked for too.
We rolled into Branson at around midnight after an 8.5 hour drive. At night, Branson seems like a sleepy little town, non-illuminated and quiet. We checked into our resort and hit the hay right away.
Upon waking, Branson was a completely new place. In daylight, we finally saw the true colors of this town. We found a local breakfast spot called Belgium’s Waffle House and decided to nom over there. Everything in Branson is close by so long as you stay within the strip. There is an old part of Branson, but we’ll save that for later.
Driving to Belgium’s, we see that every building has a photo-worthy structure outside of it. Branson is just like a low-budget Vegas; everything is big and photogenic, but at the end of the day it is just a bunch of concrete in the middle of the Ozarks. There is a Titanic Museum, with half of a Titanic-like ship structure built around the building. There is an Italian Restaurant with a gigantic meatball structure on the outside. Even the Dunkin Donuts had a giant donut outside of the building. There are photo opportunities at every corner.
We dined on a delicious Southern-style breakfast in one of the most homey and hospitable places we have ever been to. I had one of Belgian’s famous Belgian waffles and a side of hash browns. Hubs ordered country fried steak with biscuits and a side of bacon. I am lucky that I found a husband who is always willing to share his food with me. The breakfast was DELISH! It was after this breakfast I knew Branson eating would be heavy and heart-attack inducing. We couldn’t wait for the next meal!
The next day, we had a small breakfast at the resort and headed out to shop. We love little stores with kitschy things like knick-knacks and soaps and homemade jam. Branson is abundant with these stores! Hubby bought about four different types of corn salsa just to test out his favorite. What a man, he loves tasting food as much as me! What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man. Sing it with me!
By the time 5pm rolled around, we were famished. My husband wanted a burger and I was not about to grab it through a drive-thru. We found a little 50’s style retro restaurant called Billy Bob’s Dairyland, famous for burgers and fried hand pies, and we headed on over.
Upon walking in, you see a giant jukebox and standard 1950’s decor that you would expect in a diner. Red tables and chairs, checkerboard flooring, leather seats, the works. Everything looked great, but the menu looked even BETTER! Burgers, shakes, fried chicken, Frito chili pie, anything that can clog your arteries was on this menu.
We went all out. And I mean it. Hubs ordered a classic double cheeseburger, but per the waitress recommendation, had a single burger instead. Why, you may ask? Because each burger is a half pound. Yes, a half pound. That means a double cheeseburger is a FULL POUND of meat. All for less than $8. Honey, we’re officially not in Chicago anymore.
My husband got the burger plus fries, we shared a side of onion rings, and I ordered the biggest foot-long chili cheese hot dog I have ever seen, with a side of delicious crispy tots and a Coke float to wash it all down. Reference to the cover photo above for a visual. I love when a restaurant takes care in making their fried food extra crispy. And I am not ashamed to admit that I ate the entire hot dog. It was a split and grilled dog, fried on the grilltop for crispy edges. The dog was then topped with scrumptious homemade chili with beans, and then fresh shredded cheddar. It was the best chili dog I have ever had in my entire life, and I am from the hot dog capital of the world, where Vienna hot dogs originated. But no. Branson, MO has the best chili dog ever. Billy Bob’s Dairyland was my favorite food experience in Branson, by far.
The next day we started off with a small breakfast across from the resort before heading out for more shopping. We walked to Grandma Ruth’s Cinnamon Rolls, a family run establishment with three items on the menu; cinnamon rolls, caramel rolls and coffee. Grandma Ruth has been making these for decades. She even came out from the back to greet us! The roll was sweet and not overwhelming with cinnamon. It was light and airy with the middle of the roll gooey and tender. We shared one gigantic roll and it was the perfect pre-shopping fuel. My husband for the first time actually wanted to buy clothes for himself, so we headed to the outlet mall. After dragging him out of the Express Outlet two hours later, we wanted to find some lunch.
We stumbled upon Shorty Smalls Dockside Pub, a Branson landmark. They are known for their self-proclaimed hand breaded chicken tenders, which is exactly what I ordered. I was presented with a mountain of hand breaded tenders along with coleslaw, a baked potato and a side of sausage gravy for dippin’. The quality of this food (and Branson food in general) was amazing. The chicken was fresh and juicy, not overcooked pieces of breast meat with a light yet crispy coating. Hubs ordered a pulled pork sandwich, which again was incredible. Their pulled pork reminded me of my own recipe, so I was culinarily humbled. I do not think culinarily is a word. Oops!
The next day we slept in late and skipped breakfast. We traveled to Old Branson, which is a ten minute drive from the main strip. My mother-in-law bought us a gift card for the Farmhouse Family Restaurant since it is her favorite spot in Branson. It is a small venue with little to no parking, but the food was worth it. Once seated, the inside is homey and quaint with a gift shop upstairs. The waiter was a sweetie and was genuine when we asked for recommendations. From our understanding, it is a family owned, tight-knit business. I ordered Chicken Fried Chicken with country gravy and mashed potatoes. Hubs ordered a pulled pork sandwich yet again. His favorite!
The difference between New Branson and Old Branson is immense. Old Branson has older buildings (obviously) and has more of a cowboy vibe as opposed to new Branson, which is Vegas Jr. Perhaps even Vegas III. A distant relative of Vegas. While waiting for our table at the Farmhouse, we looked at the many cowboy boot stores and old-timey tchotchke and candy shoppes. Visually, it was like the two places were different worlds, not the same town.
Nearing the end of our honeymoon adventure, we decided we wanted to take advantage of the local buffets. Side note – I LOVE a good buffet. I love helping myself to the portions I want and to the different foods I like. It is ideal for me to have a lot of different bites to take while eating a meal. I switch it up and rotate the different bites of different dishes on my plate. I can’t stand sitting down to a meal where there is only one dish. I need sides, bread, salad, anything else so I can get an array of flavors going on bite after bite. Does that make me sound like a weirdo? Nope, just a glutton.
I researched different buffets to choose from – there are a lot! We landed on the one with the best reviews, called the Grand Country Buffet. It is a part of the Grand Country facility which houses a hotel, performance hall, buffet, gift shop, and a farm-themed mini golf course. I think there is also a pizza and ice cream restaurant on the other side of the building. It was massive!
We walk into the buffet for breakfast and were mesmerized. It was a beautiful display of southern-style breakfast fare. To begin, you grab a tray and order what you want to drink. They fix it up for you, you pay, and then your waitress brings your tray of drinks to your seat. She offers at least four plates for two people, knowing the food is great enough to go back for multiple helpings. We ate mini waffles, corn fritters, bacon, sausage, potatoes, fresh omelettes, fruit, biscuits and gravy, grits, but best of all was the Breakfast Casserole. It was no ordinary casserole. This was a concoction of breakfast sausage, potatoes, eggs, peppers, onions all smothered in cheese sauce. We went back three times each for more of that stuff.
The best part of our buffet experience was our waitress. During breakfast, she comes to us and says,
“We’re fixing to change to lunch soon, ya’ll should stay and have some lunch!”
Really? Eat another meal without paying the lunch price? Granted it was 11 am, but rarely are people that generous where we come from. People protect their businesses more than their children (in some cases) and want top dollar for every product they sell in this greedy market. Not at Grand Country. We were invited to sit at our table until the buffet was changed from breakfast to lunch, just so we can try out their lunch fare. We waited only ten minutes before we were given the thumbs up by our waitress. Lunch was ready.
And you know what? Lunch was INCREDIBLE. So incredible, that the next day on our last night in Branson, we went back for the dinner buffet. We had plans to have a fancy dinner on top of the mountain as our last hurrah, but changed our minds to Grand Country due to the people, service, and food.
The dinner buffet was double the size of breakfast and lunch. They had a carving station for prime rib and turkey, fresh catfish, soups, salads, and any side that you can possibly imagine. We ate both blackberry and peach cobblers for dessert along with bread pudding and a homemade vanilla cream sauce. All for less than $14 per person! I tell ya, if I lived in the south I would gain 100 pounds and save money along the way.
At the end of the day, this honeymoon was about celebrating love and eating good food. My only advice that I took from this trip is to stay away from people trying to sell you discounted show tickets in exchange for timeshares. They can be sharks and can get rude if you decline their offer. They hang out around the antique malls and pick out the tourists by their clothes or accents. Unless you are intent on going to the Branson shows and want to own a timeshare, just nod politely and move on. There are hundreds of discounted ticket sales outlets that you can purposely go to for discounts on tickets. Hubs and I were not interested in seeing any shows while there, which surprised a lot of locals apparently. The only activity we did was mini-golf, and there is no shortage of those around Branson. I have no interest in seeing an older gentleman in leather doing magic, or seeing a concert of all sub-par 70s cover bands. If that’s your thing, go for it!
Branson was a beautiful, weird, homey place. It was the perfect place for people like my husband and I, who like low-key places that are pretty and unique. Branson is all of those things. And we were lucky enough to go during off-season and beat the crowds. The mountains, the food, the buildings, and the people are all welcoming and lovely. If you are looking for a unique vacation experience, head over to Branson, MO and lets talk about it!